POWER PLAY is the latest in a string of stand-alone corporate thrillers by this author. It explores the idea of a corporate hostage taking exercise - when senior managers of the Hammond Aerospace corporation are held at a remote retreat where they have headed for an annual meeting.
In this group the obvious ring-ins are Jake Landry - more of a technical assistant to a boss who is unable to attend the retreat - and his old girlfriend Ali Hillman. She was in HR, but has now been moved across to work with the new company CEO. There's tension within the Hammond group before they even get to the retreat - after the death of their long-time CEO a female executive has been appointed to that role and many of the hard headed old men in the group are not happy about her or her approach. There is a big a marketing opportunity for the company when a competitors product fails spectacularly in front of an airshow full of witnesses. The group are already snipping and fighting amongst themselves, a situation that is exacerbated, rather than improved when heavily armed men - originally thought to be opportunistic local hunters, take the entire group and the staff of the retreat hostage.
POWER PLAY sets a cracking pace once the hostage taking gets underway - the lead up to that point fills in some details of the tensions between the characters, the background between Jake and Ali and a lot about Jake himself. This reader is still somewhat confused about why Jake's background mattered or what it necessarily contributed to him, but then by the end of the book he'd taken on somewhat more of a confusing persona so it might not matter to other readers so much. Mind you, the rest of the character's were less studies and more categories, for want of a better way of putting that. The new CEO, as a female is being strongly resisted by the older men in the group. She's sending out memos that annoy everybody before they go, she's had her powers of hiring and firing curtailed because of the tensions between her and senior executives and the retreat itself is unpopular because of the timing. All of this starts to make a bit more sense in the aftermath of the hostage taking. I'm not too sure what else she brings to the story other than providing one of the two possibly more vulnerable victims in the group. The harder headed, louder men in the group - the ones that were against the appointment of this woman the most vocally, form part of a series of targets for the hostage takers and there is a bit of rather extreme violence committed in the early stages of events. Conveniently most of the extreme threat - particularly to Ali, to whom Jake is still very much attracted; doesn't occur until Jake is armed, dangerous and free to take on the hostage takers - one by one.
POWER PLAY is definitely a thriller that takes advantage of pace, there's quite a few twists and turns in the plot - a lot of them obviously on the way, but they loomed up really quickly and the book just continued to charge along. All in all the pace was good; the characterisations less convincing; and the plot had it's definite high points but some concomitant low points. It's interesting that the marketing information that came with the book says that kidnappings and abductions of American business executives has increased dramatically in recent years. Big Business fans of POWER PLAY might be looking towards their lower ranks to check who they should take with them on any risky annual retreats.
BOOK OF THE DEAD - Patricia Cornwell
Author Patricia Cornwell throws convention to the winds here, writing her 15th Scarpetta book in a present tense narrative that appears difficult to have been sustained. The reader loses that intimate connection with Scarpetta through her thoughts that was such a success in the earlier novels of the series, and with a more grim and distant Scarpetta, happiness continues to elude her still. What we've come to expect of this series with its characters has also been turned on its head as three of the main characters are treated as fodder, toyed with for shock value that is disappointing after the investment readers have made into such a long-running series.
There is also the sheer ridiculousness of the conversations in the book. Empty statements abound, characters rarely answer a question in context and are so often exploring tangents while in discourse with someone else that the reader is bewildered as to what it is they are actually discussing. It’s a little dabbling in the surreal here as the story bobs in and out of coherent thought with little hope of the reader keeping up with each new thread. Almost a hidden plot has the BOOK OF THE DEAD, which is far too crowded and close a book. It is hard to forget the early brilliance of this author, the undoubtable talent Cornwell possessed in balancing a modern woman's drama with the new ground of crime scene forensic examination. A terrible novel for the new reader, BOOK OF THE DEAD offers little in the way of backfill. As with any long running series, any information is always appreciated and to Cornwell's credit, she is masterful at imparting a lot with few words.
The micro-world of forensics here is not the problem; it’s the duck and weave game we play with the plot. Occasionally a direction is glimpsed, and then lost again. Flashes of Cornwell's earlier skill with manipulating a scene for emotional punch (all that persecuted, professional woman angst) will come through, and then is lost again to the vagueness in expression.
EXIT STRATEGY - Kelley Armstrong
Nadia Stafford currently holds down two jobs. One of them involves her sometimes leaving her quiet life in Canada to secretly travel to wherever it is that her clients dictate. Most recently, a small Mafia family has been her regular employer, providing a much-needed, albeit high-risk income. Nadia sees it all as a means to an end, as she badly needs those funds from her "moonlighter" to financially prop up the hunter's lodge she owns and operates close to the Canadian/US border. Her two worlds do not collide.
This is not a new trend, presenting our leading man or lady as belonging to a profession not generally regarded as one in which you might find a worthy hero. EXIT STRATEGY is narrated also in the first person, so the character of Nadia, the ex-cop-turned-killer, is given some space to present some self-justification for murderous acts. This whole bad-girl-with-a-heart act can work, but it needs some sterling work put into the characterization. It's not necessary to always love or even like the lead, but you need to be at least impressed by them in some fashion, if only to admire how clever a villain they are. Very difficult to find any of that here in EXIT STRATEGY, which rather coldly puts together a group of people with yes, a common goal, and not a heart between them.
While this "thriller" picks up the pace as it progresses, introducing new bad guys along the way, EXIT STRATEGY struggles to find the logical twists and turns, meandering about with any discernable direction other than to eventually end what becomes an interminable and mind-numbing read. Paranormal romance readers who may have drifted across in loyalty may find their hopes bolstered however with the possibility of a romance in future works, threaded none-too-subtly in this first novel of the series. The future plot threads are there, all but high-lighted in neon and only the romantic angle looks vaguely interesting.
Best-selling author Kelley Armstrong is better known for her "Otherworld" supernatural novels, which have included BITTEN, DIME STORE MAGIC and NO HUMANS INVOLVED.
DARKNESS WITHIN - Jason Nahrung
You have to wonder what I'm doing out here, on the edge of the comfort zone again, up to my elbows in reading about things that normally don't work for me.... and enjoying it immensely.
The only thing I can clearly articulate is that THE DARKNESS WITHIN is unbelievably accessible. Part of it's the writing style I guess - there's something laid back, almost laconic about the style of the book. There are sly cracks, humour, a healthy dose of irony, even sarcasm in the interactions of the characters that frankly, you just don't expect in supernatural Gothic horror! But the thing that really really works is Emily. She's a great character, a bit feisty, a bit argumentative, ever so slightly annoyed with events, she is part accepting of the fate that her family has delivered her, and part just plain, flat out annoyed by it.
There is a massive dose of the supernatural in THE DARKNESS WITHIN - demons, ancient symbols and jewellery with power. There's also a very testy and temperamental Grimoire. The story revolves around a generational battle for power - the women in Emily's family against a Cabal of power - mostly male, but that doesn't ever degenerate into a supernatural battle of the sexes. Partially this is possibly because it's really not too clear whose side the character of Jehail is on, partly it's because there's nothing stereotypical about the leading women in Emily's family.
Ultimately THE DARKNESS WITHIN is part supernatural thriller, part romance, part dark fantasy, part coming of age, as the publicity blurb says, but it's also got the most fascinating "Australian" feel to it from the writing style and the interactions between the characters. The book is set in contemporary Sydney, and although there's not a lot of feel of Sydney about it necessarily, it's also not Gothic in that everything is dark and overwhelmingly old... but it is Gothic in terms of the overall atmosphere of the book.
THE SIX SACRED STONES - Matthew Reilly
For the uninitiated, Matthew Reilly does not write crime. He does not write thrillers. Matthew Reilly writes ACTION. Think Indiana Jones with a healthy dose of Die Hard and you'll start to get the idea. Character development just slows down the plot too much. As always, Reilly is inventive in the locales and situations in which he thrusts his heroes. Having read most if not all of Reilly's books, I am always impressed by his ability to pack into the written word things I would previously have thought would only work in the visual medium of the movies. The Sacred Stones is no exception in this.
If you want something that examines the human condition, move on. If you're in the mood for some pure escapism to while away a few hours with flying bullets and narrow escapes, then crack the cover.
THE SIX SACRED STONES - Matthew Reilly
Matthew Reilly was born in 1974. He is of a generation who grew up on a diet of action blockbuster movies. Reading THE SIX SACRED STONES is like reading a screenplay for one of these movies. The characters careen from one life threatening situation to another at a breakneck speed. There is an incredibly high body count as West’s friends and foes alike succumb to the danger of this latest quest. They die in all manner of grisly fashions. Fortunately the reader is spared too many details.
Character development isn’t really Reilly’s thing. Why waste the words when you can have another life-threatening situation from which Jack can extricate himself? The characters all seem to have the same voice; from the learned elderly academic to Jack’s twelve-year-old daughter – they all talk in exactly the same manner.
If asked to describe THE SIX SACRED STONES, I would say it is Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code on steroids. A fan of action movies looking for something to keep them entertained over the Christmas holidays will probably love THE SIX SACRED STONES. For this ageing baby boomer who prefers her plots much more sedate and with distinctive characters, it was all just a little too exhausting.
REDBACK - Lindy Cameron
Taking a big step away from her Kit O'Malley series, Lindy Cameron has created an excellent thriller. Pacey, peopled with strong female characters; good male characters; a complicated yet disconcertingly believable multi-threaded plot and a hefty dose of subtle humour, REDBACK is definitely going to be amongst my best books of 2007 list.
An elderly British Lord is wined, dined and slaughtered. An American Journalist is following leads for a story on computer war games. The son of a wealthy Saudi family doesn't follow the path his father and uncle have set out for him. A hostage situation in the Pacific; a man dies in Japan; plans for mass destruction are triggered in Texas; a team watches and waits in Pakistan; a politician is shot dead in Sydney; and a young man is seduced in Paris. All of these threads slowly build their own individual tension and the connections start to be revealed.
Redback is a covert, very low profile hostage retrieval team. There is a reason that they were sent to that small Pacific Island and that reason slowly reveals itself as the team become involved in something much bigger than just hostage retrieval. Connections from that island, around the world, into terrorism, organised crime, money and influence reveal themselves as REDBACK builds momentum towards, amongst other things, the SETA conference to be held in Sydney - with major international political figures attending.
REDBACK's many threads are told in a series of, mostly short, chapters which address each plot element individually until the book starts to move towards the final conclusion and a web is revealed. Whilst this does have a feeling of chopping and changing the story elements, it works because each chapter quickly advances the story and then you dart somewhere else for a look at what is going on in that corner. The choppiness gives the whole thing a sense of urgency, compelling the reader to continue on - increasing the sense of foreboding or excitement at what is to come. This is enhanced by the strength of the main character's of each thread. You don't forget who Bryn or Jana are. You know about Scott and how the story of war games is starting to get bigger than he ever expected. You know the team who are quietly (but impatiently) watching events in Pakistan, feeling frustrated by not being allowed to act. You know that Jesse-Jay in Texas is easily manipulated and you know what he's about to do. And for those of us in Australia, we can immediately recognise some of the politicians involved, even with their names changed - and, well, it's not far into REDBACK and you'll be snorting with laughter at the non-too-flattering but brutally accurate portrayal.
REDBACK seems to finish where another book could very well start off - all I can say is - yes please!
THE KILLING HOUR - Paul Cleave
From the Book: They come for me as I sleep. Their pale faces stare at me, their soft voices tell me to wake, to wake. They come to remind me of the night, to remind me of what I have done.
THE KILLING HOUR is Cleave's second book - a totally new direction from THE CLEANER, his first book released (at least in Australia) last year.
And what a direction it takes. Our "hero" Charlie doesn't know what he's done. His clothes are covered in blood, there is a bump on his forehead and there are news reports that two women have been brutally murdered. Charlie knows that Cyris killed them, but nobody else knows that Cyris exists and, let's face it, Charlie's not really sure he does either. He can't think straight as long as the two victims come back to talk to him. He can't think straight as long as the sinister, weird, obsessed Cyris is pursuing him. He can't think straight so he kidnaps his own ex-wife. Charlie really hopes that Jo believes he didn't kill those woman, but dragging her around the countryside, bound and gagged, isn't exactly the best way to win her trust. Meanwhile DI Landry is quite convinced that Charlie is his killer and he's not too fussed about whether he's got enough evidence to charge him or not. He's dying anyway - he's got few months left and he's not about to stuff around when it comes to resolving unfinished business.
THE KILLING HOUR has this marvellous, intimidating, disconcerting sense of weird, creepy, increasing tension. Sure the visions that Charlie has of the victims of the murders have a certain "woo woo" element to them, but it really doesn't matter so much. The sense that you're almost in this story with Charlie - the confusion over whether you're backtracking through the victim's lives; whether the victims are talking to Charlie; whatever is going on with Cyris and Landry - you're just gripped by this creepy, frankly scary, tension. The panic that rises in Charlie and Jo as the book screeches towards it's conclusion infects you, the reader - you're panicked - it's too late to be awake but you're not going to be turning off any lights soon - and besides that you've got to finish this book. And you're left with one question - who is this Paul Cleave and why is he trying to frighten me half to death!
The author's website (http://www.paulcleave.co.nz/) says that his third novel - Cemetery Lake is due for release in 2008. THE CLEANER had me queuing for THE KILLING HOUR. Form an orderly line to the left when CEMETERY LAKE appears.
MAELSTROM - Michael MacConnell
From the Book: Special Agent Sarah Reilly is the daughter of an FBI Legend. Her Father made his reputation hunting down one of America's worst serial killers. Now it's her turn.
Michael MacConnell's debut book MAELSTROM is - paraphrasing his own words - a book designed to appeal to thriller and crime fiction devotees; not falling into the trap of being too similar to other authors in either genre. So I read MAELSTROM with that aim in mind.
It's definitely a thriller style book - there is lots of fast paced action combined with a sinister, lurking vigilante presence - metering out their version of justice to killers - people that the vigilante's think need to be removed from society. The background of this vigilante group is slowly revealed and there's a wealthy man funding the group for what he believes are noble and true reasons. There's a sense of menace and extreme violence in their acts, there's definitely a sense of forcing those killers to face their enemy on more equal ground - giving them some sort of perceived chance - more than they ever gave their victims.
There's also elements of crime fiction in the book in that there is a serial killer with a standard modus operandi - killing violently, seemingly randomly - but there is a pattern that can be discerned and clues to his methods if the investigators dig. There's a copycat killer - muddying the waters of the investigations, threatening the very lives of all the investigation team.
There's also the beautiful, young FBI agent - Sarah - with her mane of red gold hair. She has to live up to the reputation of her father, and to complicate her life even more, the reputation of her lover - a fellow agent - well known and well liked.
Maybe it is a "girl thing" but this constant idea that every female character has got to be physically attractive and that state has to be commented on is getting boring. As is the idea of the menacing vigilante team - working outside, around and above the law by dint of the amount of money that the team "leader" has (can a vigilante team ever just be a bunch of average people who have just had enough - but that's digression.)
Not to say there's not some good things in this book - the quiet menace of the opening segment is truly sobering. The first appearance of the vigilante group is shocking. They seem to appear from nowhere - for a short while the reader is slightly wrong-footed. There's romantic attachment, which, despite a deep feeling of foreboding, was actually handled well - with a slightly different twist which was refreshing. But there are also some things that don't work - the use of Australian terminology by American characters jars, the appearance of the beautiful FBI agent; the motivation, structure and behaviour of a team of vigilantes that seem to be able to commit mass violence and then just disappear was just that bit too far of a credulity stretch.
Whether or not MAELSTROM meets the authors aim is going to be very much to the individual reader's taste.
CHASERS - Lorenzo Carcaterra
According to the bio that came with the book, CHASERS is the 5th book by Lorenzo Carcaterra and a followup to APACHES. The author lives in New York and has written scripts for films and TV shows, including Law and Order. Perhaps that's where the style and content of CHASERS comes from, because this is a very specific type of thriller book, possibly appealing to a particular type of taste.
Set in 1985 in New York, machine-guns are used to murder a target in a Manhattan restaurant, killing innocent bystanders in the process. The brutal slaying propels the surviving members of the Apaches into the investigation of a Colombian drug cartel run by an ex-priest.
The Apaches are a group of controversial ex-cops famous for their take no prisoners, tolerate no garbage style. Original members of the group are joined by some new recruits - a wounded arson investigator, an HIV-positive specialist in forensics and a retired police dog. From the blurb on the book "Now this dedicated team will become Chasers, working multiple cases that will converge into one explosive, all-out New York City street war".
To like CHASERS if might be best if you're a fan of endless dead bodies, assorted gangs facing off against each other (at some point you were left wondering if there was room for anybody else in the city); blood running in the streets; wise-cracking, deeply cynical New York Cops; dialogue that flows through the ear like a staccato dentist drill; vengeance; and rampant gratuitous, almost celebrated, violence.
And boy oh boy is there a lot of everything that's just a bit stomach churning. Spattered gore doesn't begin to explain it, mentioning that there are a lot of dead bodies in this novel doesn't do justice to the dismembering, mayhem and general discarding of human beings left right and centre throughout the book. There's nothing wrong with a high body count in a thriller after all, but somewhere buried under the assorted body parts you'd hope there would be a story being told. This searching for the story under the gore is complicated further by the nature of the dialogue, every single character using the same slick, smart, sassy, street talk (or whatever you'd call it style) that meant that most of the time it was almost impossible to tell which character said what.
I guess ultimately CHASERS could read like a film adaption waiting to happen (although what rating you'd give this level of mayhem beggars the mind), but as a book (for a fan of the occasional over the top thriller) it left a bit to be desired.